There are three academic locations in the book, the Professor’s rooms in the Main Arts Building, the university library and outside a hall of residence. The Main Arts building is an imposing structure on the hill above the town, built in 1911. Inside, it feels like an archetypal university building, with high-ceilinged hallways, stained glass and impressive public rooms. The largest is called the Prichard-Jones Hall, after a well-known benefactor, a local boy who founded Dickins & Jones department store in London. He lends his name to my Professor in the book, with a slight change to the spelling of his name, as a nod to the surname of an old college friend of mine.
The Professor’s office at the top of the college is based on memories I had of the academics’ rooms, complete with fireplaces and leather chairs. I used to have Italian Renaissance Art seminars in that top corridor, and it felt exactly the way academic buildings should – solid, ornate, serious and, ultimately, quite wonderful. This picture shows the main building from the back, the entrance to the P-J Hall on the left. The library entrance (shown below) is to the right. It was taken in my last term at university, which explains why the cars look so shockingly antiquated (it was only 1991, but I guess that was over 20 years ago!). The Professor’s room number, 46, is a reference to the houses I shared with friends in my second and third years, both numbered 46, and one of them situated almost opposite this building (and the number of my room in Halls was simply those two digits reversed, 64).
The university library is a place I frequented often, and is strange in that, while you enter through a modern building, many of the books (including the History books I studied) are housed in the original part of the college. You can see the entrance in the photo opposite, where the old meets the new (itself a metaphor for Gawain and the Green Knight). Despite regular visits, I can’t quite remember the internal layout, and except for that juxtaposition of the old and the new, the locations are mostly imaginary. It goes without saying that the rare books room, with DNA scanners, temperature sensors and convoluted password puzzles, is completely made up. With so much of the old world in the book, I wanted to have a chapter that seemed very modern, almost James Bond-like, with computers, gadgets and gizmo’s. Nowadays, though, the children could simply investigate the Pontifical online! To see what I think of as the model for the rare books room in the story, have a look at this image of the Shankland reading room in the University.
The hall of residence the children rest in after escaping from Menai Bridge is my old hall, Neuadd Reichel, which in my day was quite formal, with Sunday lunches in suits and gowns, in rooms filled with enormous oil paintings of academics. But it was a true home for us, and as an all-male hall at the time, was really like living in a huge frat house. Most of the time was spent playing pranks, engaging in ancient hall rituals (long live Benny Dicemus!), watching videos (remember them?), partying and playing D&D – when we weren’t working hard, of course! Happy days! Vitam Impendere Vero, and all that!